NATIONAL PARKS IN ISRAEL. The National Parks Authority was established by law in 1963 to take over the functions carried out from 1956 (with the same staff) by the Department for Landscaping and the Preservation of Historic Sites in the prime minister's office. These functions are: the preparation, laying out, and maintenance of park areas for the general public; the restoration, landscaping, and preservation of historical and archaeological sites; the construction of access roads and amenities for recreation and leisure; and, in the case of ancient sites, the provision of explanatory notice boards and pamphlets. The Authority has also established museums at several historic sites.

Israel is rich in biblical sites and the remains of post-biblical Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, and Crusader settlements, often in surroundings of beauty, and most of the national parks have been linked with these sites. Many had suffered from centuries of neglect, since they were of little interest to the successive occupying authorities. The Authority had to clear overgrowth and thick layers of debris, undertake restoration programs where possible, and provide amenities and access for visitors, both local and from overseas. Some parks were laid out without any connection with a historic site, in order to preserve rural areas from the encroachment of urban development. Occasionally, archaeological sites were taken over for preservation and maintenance by the Authority, where the excavations had been particularly dramatic, as at *Masada; or where scholars had made spectacular finds of wide public interest, as at *Hazor, the *Bet She'arim necropolis, the ancient synagogues at *Bet Alfa, *Baram, and *Hammath (Tiberias), the Roman theater at *Caesarea, and the excavations at *Bet Yeraḥ and *Ramat Raḥel. At some sites the National Parks Authority was responsible for the excavations, undertaken by specially commissioned archaeologists, as well as for their restoration and current maintenance. Examples are: the Crusader city of Caesarea, complete with moat, walls, gates, and towers; the crypt, tunnels, and some of the walls of Crusader *Acre; the castles of *Yehi'am and *Belvoir; the Roman theater at *Beth-Shean; the Nabatean-Byzantine city of *Avedat, with its citadel, acropolis, and two churches; and the Nabatean cities of *Shivta and *Kurnub. At Masada, much of the restoration work was carried out at the same time as the excavations.

The Authority is also responsible for sites designated as national parks. Those already open to the public, in addition to the ones already mentioned, are: Ḥurshat Tal in Upper Galilee, with its streams, pond, lawns, and woods; the spring, bathing pool, and woodland slopes of Ma'ayan Ḥarod in the Valley of Jezreel; the three natural pools and landscaped banks of Gan ha-Sheloshah, also in Jezreel; the seashore park and antiquities of *Ashkelon; the natural pools of Ein Avedat in the northern Negev; the 25,000-acre parkland and forest of Carmel; and the Crusader remains at Aqua Bella (Ein Ḥemed) near Jerusalem. The Authority has also renovated some of the medieval synagogues of Safed, and improved the amenities at the tomb of Maimonides in Tiberias. It has carried out site-improvement work at Mount Zion in Jerusalem and at the tomb of R. *Simeon b. Yoḥai at *Meron. The Authority was one of the initiators in setting up the park at *Yad Mordekhai, which contains a reconstruction of the Egyptian attack on the kibbutz in 1948 and a small museum devoted to the defense of the southern kibbutzim during the War of Independence. Among the new parks for which plans have already been completed by the Authority is the Jerusalem national park–a green belt circling the Old City walls and covering 500 acres. The number of visitors to the national parks in 1968 exceeded 2,000,000.

In 1998 the National Parks Authority was united with the Nature Reserves Authority as the Israel Nature and Park Authority. The new Authority's goal is to preserve Israel's green areas in the face of rapid urban development, increasing transportation needs, and the steep growth of Israel's population. The Authority's tasks are to locate sites for the establishment of nature reserves and national parks; to establish, maintain, and manage existing reserves and parks; to oversee natural resources; to initiate educational activities; and to conduct research on nature preservation. The Authority is responsible for 380 nature reserves spread over 2,350 sq. mi. (6,130 sq. km.) and 115 national parks spread over 140 sq. mi. (370 sq. km.). Fifty-eight nature reserves and national parks are open to the public, with over 10 million visitors in 2003.


[Yaacov Yannai /

Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.